We humans are really bad at forecasts.
“Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”
Daniel Kahneman literally wrote the book about the Planning Fallacy. He won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002, even though he’s a psychologist. He’s as smart as you can get. But he still fell into the very trap he himself identified.
“But we did not acknowledge what we knew. The new forecast still seemed unreal, because we could not imagine how it could take so long to finish a project that looked so manageable.” Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow
The problem is, thinking about the Future is hard. It’s a long way away for most of us, particularly Present Hedonists. It’s so far away, we have to construct it by airlifting the present and plonking it down in the general area. Maybe we’ll embellish it a little, but it looks a lot like today.
However, the Future is not more of the Present. It’s not today delayed by 12 months. When you finally arrive in the Future, it’s definitely not like it used to be. You find that your forecast failed to factor in an economic downturn; a change in management; contractual disputes; specification changes; mission creep; illness; holidays; bad weather. Plus it was just plain over-optimistic, because you needed a good business case to get your project authorised.
So what can you do?
Tip #1. Phone a Friend. Once you have your forecast. Double it. Double it again. Then throw away your forecast and ask an experienced colleague who’s not connected to your project. Before you ask them, get them to bring to mind similar projects they have done in the past. That way they draw on real-life, rather than joining you in your over optimistic fantasy world.
Tip#2. Do a Pre-Mortem. I’ve written about pre-mortems before, here. They’re brilliant for eliminating group-think and the euphoria that pervades the early planning stages of any project. They force you to live in a dystopian future and explain how you got there. You wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s nice to visit, once in a while.
Have fun, and please let us know how you get on with your forecasting, in the Future.